How can empathy in the classroom translate to empathy in the real world?
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Connect with Kids  

June 2015

IN THIS ISSUE: How Can Reading Fiction to Learn Empathy Help Students Understand What's Happening in America?
The Importance of Empathy: How Reading Fiction Can Affect How Students View the Baltimore Conflict 

In the last year, repeated cases of police brutality have brought issues of racism and violence to the forefront of the American consciousness. In this time of turmoil, hope lies with younger generation and the possibility for a brighter future is in the hands of educators. In response to the riots in Baltimore, President Obama emphasized that our schools need to focus on “providing early education to these kids to make sure that we're reforming our criminal-justice system so it's not just a pipeline from schools to prisons." According to The Guardian, empathy could be the characteristic most necessary for youth to respond to what is happening in America right now. There are numerous ways to teach empathy to children, but recent research from Cambridge University reveals that storytelling is particularly impactful. An article from The Guardian analyzes the research between this study and how to effectively communicate these findings in a meaningful way to students.

Empathy is so important in teaching students how to respond civilly to instances of police brutality, because there is a feeling of separation between the two. In an article by Education Week, a student and a police officer both voiced opinions that there is a “lack of effective communication between law enforcement and teenagers.” This lack of communication creates a “gap” between the police authority and the students in these cities surrounded by controversy. Perhaps the bridge can be found through empathy.

According to Roman Krznaric, empathy is “coming to be seen as one of the fundamental forces for tackling global challenges.” By teaching kids at an early age to get engaged in their fictional reading, they can develop stronger ideas of empathy and be better suited for situations in the future. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University, connects stories to the real world by saying, “Understanding stories is similar to the way we understand the real world”. This connection between fictional stories and the real world can allow young children to “learn how differently other people experience life.”

The idea of developing compassion is so important because of the growing empathy deficit in our current generations. According to a Connect With Kids segment we live in an age in which we are more and more connected by technology but this connectedness doesn’t seem “to be translating to genuine concern for the world and one another.” Research from The University of Michigan has shown that college kids today are nearly 40% less empathetic than they were 30 to 40 years ago.

These startling statistics give context to how important it is to teach empathy at an early age. These concepts of caring for others and putting oneself in another’s shoes are crucially important to responding to the increased racial tensions and incidences of police brutality in our country today.

However, these topics aren’t always easy to talk about. Issues of racism, police brutality, and poverty generate polarizing opinions. In an Education Week article, a student remarked that talking about Baltimore is “like discussing religion.” The Learning Network engaged in one of these discussions online in an article titled “How do you feel about what’s happening in Baltimore?” The article gave a brief summary about some of the events in Baltimore and then asked several thought provoking questions targeted at students around the country. The article generated nearly 100 responses from students generating different perspectives and ideas in a healthy manner. One student said, “We need to look at both sides of the story instead of instantly assuming one thing.”

This conversation is vital to promoting understanding about what’s happening in Baltimore and elsewhere in the country. Engaging in these discussions may not necessarily solve anything immediately, but an increase in empathy among young people could be the beginning of a more peaceful and compassionate generation of Americans.
How can empathy be taught?

The Guardian Article analyzing the correlation between empathy and fictional reading gives a clear outline to teaching a concept that many teens and young adults struggle with. According to the article, the link behind empathy and fictional reading is the fact that “fiction tricks our brains into thinking we are part of the story.” Once we are part of the story, we are able to empathize with the characters, which translates to empathy in the real world with real people. Further research conducted by Raymond Mar analyzes how “experiences that we have in our life shape our understanding of the world… and imagined experiences through narrative fiction stories are also likely to shape or change us.”

Along with all this research, The Guardian article outlines effective methods used to teach empathy in the classroom including picking the right books, teaching vocabulary for feelings, and stepping into a character’s shoes. These various methods allow students to further communicate their feelings in a meaningful way and to understand how and why others feel the way they do.

These methods of teaching are more relevant than ever in a culture in which competition and technology influence today’s teens in a new and powerful way. In a Connect with Kids segment called The Empathy Deficit, students talk about how competition and technology cause a feeling of distrust and disconnect among their peers. By teaching students to develop empathy they are then given the tools necessary to interact with their peers in a healthy way despite the disconnected atmosphere of our generation.

Explore CWK resources for strategies to help students further develop empathy.

Connect With Kids offers many online resources dealing with empathy as well as other important life skills. These resources can be crucial in your child's social and emotional learning. By purchasing access to Websource, parents and teachers gain access to hundreds of videos dealing with important social and emotional issues. The resources within Websource contain various two minute to half-hour long series, resource guides, and lesson plans and fact sheets.
Lost for Words? How Reading Can Teach Children Empathy, The Guardian

Can Fiction Stories Make Us More Empathetic? Science Daily
Programs Aim to Smooth Student-Police Relations, Education Week
Amid Baltimore Turmoil, Students and Educators Seek Understanding, Education Week
How Do You Feel About What’s Happening in Baltimore? The Learning Network
Empathy: College Students Don’t Have as Much as They Used To, University of Michigan
The Empathy Deficit, Connect With Kids
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Connect with Kids is based out of Atlanta, Georgia and has been in business for over 15 years.  We own one of the nation’s largest evidence-based, non-fiction video libraries on student behavior and parent engagement and address issues such as bullying and violence prevention, character and life skills, attendance and achievement, health and wellness, digital citizenship, drug and alcohol prevention and college and career readiness.   Our company works with school districts to assess their needs in these areas and builds custom websites with video programs; lesson plans and parent resources that are accessible to the entire community including all parents.  Connect with Kids is listed as an Effective Producer of Programs on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse List and is also listed on the  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).